TRT World speaks to Zafaryab Jilani who represented Muslim parties in the recently concluded high profile Babri Masjid case that has split India's Hindus and Muslims.

Senior lawyer Zafaryab Jilani represented Muslim parties in the case over the land of the disputed Babri mosque in the Supreme Court. 

Jilani has been associated with the campaign for the reconstruction of Babri mosque at the disputed site in Ayodhya since the early 80s. He was appointed as the first convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee after its inception in 1986. Apart from the Babri Masjid case, he has represented the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in several high profile cases.

He is now seeking a review of the Ayodhya verdict that many have viewed as a massive blow to India's Muslim community. 

You have decided to seek a review of the Ayodhya verdict. Considering that the Supreme Court’s verdict passed unanimously by all five judges, how hopeful are you that the petition will be accepted?

Zafaryab Jilani: I cannot comment if it would be accepted or not. That power lies within the domain of judges, and it is their prerogative. But we have a very valid grievance, and we consider it our right to challenge the judgment. So, we will use this right. Then it is up to the judges whether they accept it or reject it.

Many people - both within and outside the Muslim community - argue that the wave of majoritarianism in the country is such that even if the verdict had gone in favour of Muslims, Babri Masjid would not be reconstructed.

In such a scenario, doesn’t a review petition seem futile?

ZJ: All these doubts are expressed by the people who are/were ready to surrender the mosque for different reasons. I represent the people who are not prepared to surrender.

We will not surrender any mosque as it is not permissible under Sharia rulings. It is not that we won’t accept legal judgements, but since we are convinced of our position, we will continue to pursue the case and fight as long as we can.

Even some leading Islamic ulema (scholars) of the country - whom I won’t name - wanted us to leave the case and surrender the land unilaterally to Hindus. They were scared to contest the case and said it wouldn’t yield any results. But it is not about yielding results, but fighting for justice. 

But some of the litigants from your side like Iqbal Ansari (whose father Hashim Ansari was the first litigant of the case) have opposed a review petition.

ZJ: I won’t comment on his stand as of now because I believe he is yet to take a final call. Let us give him some time. We will have to wait to know his final decision.

You have also accused the district administration of Uttar Pradesh of mounting pressure on people in Ayodhya to restrain them from speaking against the Ayodhya verdict.

ZJ: Yes, I have said this, and I still stand by this. The district administration has mounted pressure on many people, including Iqbal Ansari.

Do you want to infer that Iqbal Ansari has backtracked because of pressure from the administration?

ZJ: See, I won’t comment more on this. Iqbal Ansari does not want to discuss this pressure publicly. So, I don’t want to create an embarrassing situation for him.

Many legal experts had argued that the turning point of the case during the 40-day hearing in the Supreme Court came when you responded in affirmation on being asked by Justice Bobde whether you believed Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya. Didn’t your affirmation convert a myth into an indisputed fact that ultimately decided the fate of the case?

ZJ: People who are saying such things aren’t aware of the history of the case. Even during the Allahabad High Court proceedings, we had given it in writing that as per Valmiki Ramayan, Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya and that is the belief of Hindus. We can do little about it. So this was not the first instance where we had accepted it.

Do you fear, like many in the Muslim community do, that this decision will set a dangerous precedent of majoritarian faith dominating over discernible facts in many similar disputes regarding religious places of worship in India?

ZJ: I  cannot say much regarding the assumptions about the future. But if any place of worship is forcibly snatched or attacked, we will defend that and fight for it 'till our last breath.

Have you or any of your members in the team received threats after your decision to seek a review of the verdict?

ZJ: I think that is irrelevant. We don’t care about threats. Our job is such that we do not take notice of threats, nor do we want to make an issue out of this.

The recent Ayodhya verdict is applicable on 1500 square yards (3.1 acres) of land. However, the central government had acquired a total of 67 acres of land around the disputed site in 1993. So, what is the legal status of the rest of the land now?

ZJ: The issues raised in the Ismail Farooqui case [in which the acquisition was challenged] has been answered in the recent Ayodhya verdict. According to the judgment, the central government cannot transfer any part of the 67 acres of acquired land to anyone until the dispute is solved completely [so until the final judgement after reviewing the current verdict is passed, this part of the land cannot be handed over to anyone.]

What is your opinion on the Supreme Court observation that “Hindus were able to establish a long continuous unimpeded period of assertion on the disputed land in Ayodhya”?

ZJ: This is a wrong observation. We will challenge this in the review petition.